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Woman With Flesh-Eating Infection Fights for Life

February 13, 1998|STEVE CARNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What started as a twisted ankle Sunday has turned into a fight for survival for a 30-year-old Anaheim women stricken by so-called flesh-eating bacteria.

Doctors at Anaheim Memorial Medical Center have amputated both of Ana Maria Garcia's legs and part of her right hand to try to halt the spread of the virulent infection, called necrotizing fasciitis. She was in extremely critical condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The bacteria, which infect small cuts or other injuries, are a rare and extreme form of the type of bacteria that cause strep throat.

"This is a very devastating disease," said Mary Ann Adams, the hospital's infection control coordinator. But she added, "This is extremely rare. We don't want to panic the community."

"Severe Group A" streptococcal infections eat away at tissue layers surrounding muscles. Officials estimate there are 10,000 to 15,000 cases in the nation each year, with about 10% to 15% of the patients suffering from gangrene.

Garcia's husband, Roberto Serrano, said he gave his wife pain pills and massaged her left ankle after she hurt it about 11 a.m. Sunday. Later, she felt an uncomfortable tingling, he said.

Garcia's pain and her family's concern grew so great that they called an ambulance about 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Three hours later, the hospital called Serrano for his approval to amputate.

"It wasn't a matter of saving her leg. It was a matter of saving her life," he said.

A priest gave her last rites, but after more operations and treatments, Garcia has stabilized, Adams said. Hospital officials warned that she is still in danger.

Times staff writer Shelby Grad contributed to this story.

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